7 Essential Elements of a Great Bedtime Routine

Nighttime routines aren’t just for kids — they’re essential for adults as well. Here’s what an ideal bedtime routine for adults looks like.

Woman reading a book in bed as part of her bedtime routine.

Whether it was reading a book or turning on a favorite nightlight, most of us had beloved bedtime routines as children that made us feel safe, sleepy, and calm.

Our parents were onto something. Children with consistent bedtime routines consistently perform better on assessments of cognitive skills like working memory and executive function.

But taking time to wind down isn’t just for kids — bedtime routines are important for adults too.

Why Adults Need Nighttime Routines, Too

A recent study in Scientific Reports found that adults need consistent sleep routines to get quality sleep and achieve overall health and wellbeing just as much as children.

Bedtime routines for adults can prevent insomnia and, for many people, provide a designated time for much-needed self-care and reflection.

The Best Bedtime Routine for Adults

If you don’t have a bedtime routine, now’s a great time to start one. Here are seven elements of a great nighttime routine to help you transition smoothly into deep, restorative sleep every night.

1. Cut Off Alcohol, Nicotine, and Caffeine 

As nice as it is to have a nightcap before bed, alcohol can actually hurt the quality of your sleep. Sure, it makes you sleepy, but as the effect wears off, having alcohol in your system can lead to fragmented sleep. Caffeine and nicotine, on the other hand, are both stimulants, so they can make it more difficult to fall sleep. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine for at least four hours before bed. If you can, try to only have caffeinated beverages in the morning or afternoon, rather than the evening.

2. Have a Light Snack or a Warm Drink  

Try not to have a large meal within 2 hours of your bedtime, as digesting it can keep you awake. But don’t go to bed on an empty stomach either as your hunger could wake you up in the night.

If your stomach starts growling before bed, eat a light snack. Registered dietitian Taylor Jones, RD, recommends cheese and a few grapes, an apple with peanut butter, or berries rather than desserts since sugar can keep some people awake.

Having a warm drink can also help. Many have calming and detoxifying properties, which is why they have been traditionally consumed before bed for centuries in cultures all over the world. You could brew a cup of herbal tea or make a glass of warm water with lemon. Some people also enjoy warm milk before bed. As long as it isn’t sugary, alcoholic, or caffeinated, you can end the day with any warm beverage you like. Just make sure you don’t drink so much liquid that you have to go to the bathroom during the night.

3. Lower the Temperature in Your Bedroom 

Research has shown that temperature is actually one of the most important factors in achieving quality sleep. As a result, one way to prepare yourself for sleep is by turning down the thermostat. We sleep best when we’re cool but not cold. Sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom about 65 degrees to best align with your natural circadian rhythms.

If you live in a warm place, you might find that having a fan on during the night helps keep your bedroom more comfortable. Alternatively, you could use lighter bedding or sleep accessories with cooling properties.

4. Turn Off Electronic Devices  

Avoiding screens before bed is common advice from sleep experts because the blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and laptops can ruin restful sleep. Blue light actually suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep, and pushes back our internal clock. For thousands of years, people spent their evenings in darkness. Our bodies adapted to this schedule, which is why electronic blue light is damaging to sleep.

Blue light exposure can have long-term impacts on our health as well. Studies have found a correlation between high blue light exposure and retina damage, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer.

You should ideally avoid screens — yes, that includes your phone; stop doomscrolling — for about 2 hours before bed. If that feels unrealistic, aim for a half hour. Even small amounts of screen-free relaxation before you go to sleep will help you rest more deeply. Some sleep experts also recommend keeping your phone out of reach from your bed to limit the temptation to check it during the night.

5. Develop a Relaxing Evening Ritual  

Find a calming evening activity that you enjoy doing — whether it’s yoga, journaling, reading, prayer, or spending unplugged, bonding time with family or pets — and make it a habit. By consistently building time into your evening to do this activity, your body will begin to associate it with sleep, making falling asleep easier.

6. Make a To-Do List for Tomorrow  

One of the most common reasons people struggle to fall asleep is anxiety. If you find your mind racing when trying to fall asleep, considering jotting down a to-do list. Research shows that just writing down what we need to do the next day can alleviate the cognitive impact of unfulfilled tasks, leaving us calmer, happier, and more efficient. Just make sure you write your list on paper, rather than a phone or computer, and when you’re done set it aside rather than trying to tackle any tasks before bed.

7. Take a Warm Shower or Bath 

Taking a warm shower or bath 1-2 hours before bed can help prepare your body for sleep. Not only does it relax your muscles, but it also lowers your core body temperature by bringing heat to the surface, which can lead to better sleep, according to University of Texas researchers.

Create a Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

Developing a bedtime routine can soothe anxiety and make you happier. It’s also one of the easiest ways to improve sleep and achieve deeper rest. Our bodies thrive on consistency, so taking the time for an activity you enjoy each night, planning for the next day, and turning off screens is a fantastic investment in your health. Start tonight and you’ll be sleeping better in no time.